How Can She Afford That? She Can’t, That’s How

How can she afford that?

I’ve never been a label queen or a trendsetter (or trend stay-on-er) by any means. Growing up, I either had to wear hand-me-downs from my older sister or would get a few new outfits from Sears before the new school year started. As a teenager, I had a bit more freedom but was still restricted by my parents’ budget. I always got everything I needed, but I could never keep up with the constantly changing trends like my friends could.

I still have this vivid memory of being in middle school and desperately wanting this one t-shirt from Below the Belt. It was light pink and had some funny slogan on it. I knew that if I just got this shirt I’d be the envy of all my classmates for the next week. I brought my mom to the store to try to convince her to buy it for me, but once she saw the price tag of $30 she said I was out of luck. In 2015, $30 for a shirt actually sounds like a bargain, but back in 2000 it was on the high side (especially for just a cotton t-shirt that would probably be out of style in a year).

I know, it’s ridiculous that all these years later I still remember that stupid pink t-shirt. But I don’t think it’s because I really regretted not getting it. It was the fact that I couldn’t get it that has always bugged me. I couldn’t afford it, and somehow my friends could.

I remember having one friend in particular who was always on trend. Whenever we would go shopping, she would see something she liked and would actually buy it! When I went shopping with friends, I would just look at things and pretend that I was going to go back to buy it later. I always chalked up this dichotomy to her having more money than me. I couldn’t afford to shop like her, but she could shop to her heart’s content because she was rich and I was poor, I thought.

Guess what, she wasn’t. I’m not saying that all these years later I got ahold of her financials and have the proof to show you all, but looking back at everything with an adult’s perspective, a number of things are blatantly clear. Was she actually richer than my family? No, I don’t think so. Sure, she had a nicer house, her parents always had new cars, and she always had a number of new outfits to flaunt each season. But those things don’t mean when you throw the word debt into the mix now do they?

I don’t think I even knew debt was a thing when I was younger. A big reason for that was because my parents never had any besides our mortgage. They made sure to only spend what money they had and that was it. Getting into debt with credit cards or a line of credit was not an option for a family of 5. However, in order to maintain a lifestyle in the black, we had to live frugally. We only bought what we needed and lived fairly simply. To this day, that’s how I still live my life and that’s why I’m also not in debt.

Nonetheless, debt is something that is extremely common-place in Canada, reaching record levels for household consumer debt. Yet, when you look at the people around you, do you think of them as richer than you or drowning in debt? Even as a personal finance blogger, you’d think I’d know better, but I still question how some of the people I see on the subway can afford a Louis Vuitton bag. If they are wearing sweatpants, how can they afford a designer handbag? I could probably afford one and I don’t wear sweatpants, so what the hell does that mean? Well, either they just really like sweatpants and saved up to buy it, or they are paying it off in installments.

When it comes to comparing yourself to other people’s wealth solely based on the material possessions they have, don’t automatically assume they are richer than you. Most people that obsess over labels and trends can’t actually afford the lifestyle to match it. And the people who can afford it, well, if they’re middle class like the majority of us, then they’re probably being smart with their money and putting it in the bank or investing it.

Do you ever assume people have more money than you based on the material possessions they have?